It gives nothing away to reveal that at the end of my lengthy chat with Zach Williams, the lead singer-songwriter of "Brooklyn country" act the Lone Bellow breaks into a darkly comic ditty: "Liiife suckkks but it's okaaay!"
Yep, that sums up the Lone Bellow fairly well. The roots-rocking trio brings its reinforced Americana to the Funshine Music Festival at the Florida State Fairgrounds this weekend (they play on Sunday). Williams & Co. - one of the hottest, most acclaimed young acts in the new "natural" movement - excel in uncorking seemingly joyous songs that, well, kind of aren't.
For instance, when I compliment the raucous kiss-off fun of The One You Should've Let Go, some rollicking rolling thunder on the band's 2012 self-titled debut, the 32 year old recoils in shock: "If you read the lyrics on that, the words say terrible things! All that energy mashed up with terrible words!"
The Lone Bellow - which also includes guitarist Brian Elmquist and vocalist and mandolin player Kanene Pipkin - has been compared favorably to Mumford & Sons, the Civil Wars and the Lumineers. (I can also hear the Band, Coldplay, Dixie Chicks.) Williams - who was first inspired to write music when his wife was in a near-fatal horse-riding accident - says he's fine with comparisons. His band is simply part of a greater good:
You guys are part of a massive musical movement right now: a return to real, to Americana, to a natural roots-rocking sound. Mumford & Sons, the Lumineers, the Avett Brothers, Ed Sheeran. Heck, I even bought your record on vinyl; it just seemed right.
For Record Store Day [on April 20], we were in Boston, playing at Newbury Comics, the day after they caught the dude, the bad guy in the attacks. It was really heavy. ... But the whole city was so tender to each other. And there we were, strangers from another city, and we were sharing in this moment, too. It was a reminder where people are right now, moments are becoming more and more important to us. And that goes back to what you said about natural and real. ... I'm thrilled to be part of this music community where bands are responding to the actual listeners, what they want to hear.
I first saw you a couple years ago, opening for the Civil Wars in Tampa. What did you take away from that tour?
Joy [Williams] and John [Paul White] have a very loving nature about them. They've been making music for years and years; we've been doing it on a much smaller scale. But when we met the Civil Wars, there was this professional humility about them that was really inspiring to me. Before they went on stage they'd always make sure to stop and say something to us, maybe John making a stupid joke to Brian. There's that slippery slope of being jaded all the time.
Have you met your share of showbiz creeps already?
[Laugh] Oh yeah, definitely. But when you meet one of them, it usually boils down to them being hungry and tired and needing to go to the bathroom. We're all pretty simple people when you come right down to it.
Much has been made of your "Brooklyn country" tag. How does the New York City borough inform your music?
You want to know the truth: We just jokingly said "Brookyn country" one day and then someone ran with it. But then we wondered why we made that joke. New York is made up of hundreds of small neighborhoods. In Brooklyn, we walk everywhere, we run into the same people, every neighborhood has its own grocery store. ... The American small town - we walked right into it! There are a lot of similarities between urban living and rural America. And our music was curated by this small neighborhood in Brooklyn.
You're a happily married fella and yet a lot of your songs often chronicle moments when love has been lost or at least misplaced. As a songwriter, how do you get there?
Just like so many of us, I personally have been through some tough things and have tried to figure out love and what that is. If you sweep away the things that can preoccupy our day, we are pretty tortured folks. Humanity. We feel things deeply. We feel things deeply for others. We all have the shared thing of knowing real joy and knowing real pain - and it takes both sides of those things to live well and made something that matters. [Sings] Liiife suckkks but it's okaaay!
Sean Daly can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.